By way of the Nineteen Seventies and 80s, Ramesh Sikarwar and his gang of dacoits in Chambal would typically spend their nights in a forest — identified in the present day because the Kuno Nationwide Park in Madhya Pradesh.
It’s this previous connection that prompted Sikarwar, now 72, to return ahead as a “cheetah mitra” on the nationwide park. “The Kuno forest gave us shelter, protected us. We had a deep love for the forest. It’s time now for me to guard it,” he says.
Sikarwar’s title nonetheless carries concern within the area — the dreaded former dacoit was accused of round 70 murders and 300 kidnappings. Now, he’s a farmer and one of many 500 cheetah mitras from the 51 villages within the space who’ve been educated to create consciousness among the many villagers concerning the animals. The opposite volunteers embrace faculty academics, village headmen and patwaris.
“As soon as we knew the cheetahs had been coming, we had began working an consciousness marketing campaign concerning the cheetahs within the surrounding villages. It was the MP authorities’s proposal to determine cheetah mitras, who would mainly function as informants for the forest division and maintain us apprised of the goings in and across the Kuno Nationwide Park. They may also be chargeable for finishing up their very own consciousness campaigns relating to the cheetahs amongst villages and native populations. In July, once we had began these campaigns, we had requested for volunteers to develop into cheetah mitras. That’s when Sirkarwar, who’s well-known within the space, got here ahead,” says Chief Wildlife Warden Madhya Pradesh J S Chauhan.
Talking with The Indian Specific, Sirkarwar described his previous life and switch to dacoity: “I used to be simply 23 years previous once I turned a Baghi (dacoit). My father needed to go away our village of Lahroni, after my uncle grabbed our property and refused to half with it regardless of the property being in my father’s title. We had been poor, he was wealthy. We had relocated to a different village. Once I was older, and my father had handed, my sister was getting married, I went to my uncle for cattle to provide in my sister’s marriage ceremony. He refused. I shot him and ran away,” he says.
Over the subsequent few years, Sirkarwar was to determine a gang of 32 dacoits that will function throughout Gwalior, Morena, Guna, Jhansi, Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh and one other 12 districts in Rajasthan.
“We had been all from poor households pushed to develop into baghis. A lot of the points we labored on as a gang was that of property disputes the place the police and administration would all the time facet with the richer get together. There was nobody to look out for the poor. They didn’t obtain justice, so we gave them justice. Through the years, we carried out over 300 kidnappings, the place we might abduct sons of wealthy fathers and demand a ransom of Rs 2-4 lakhs. We had been protected by the villagers, given meals and shelter. We might transfer round consistently to keep away from the police – shifting locations two-three instances a day. Having breakfast in a single place, lunch in one other, dinner in a 3rd village. At evening we might sleep within the forest —most frequently we might sleep in what’s now referred to as the Kuno Nationwide Park,” he says.
Sikarwar’s gang surrendered to the authorities in 1984. Sirkarwar says he was by no means convicted as a result of authorities couldn’t discover any witness to testify in opposition to him. He spent 10 years in jail through the trial, and was launched in 1994. Members of his gang acquired twenty 12 months in jail. He returned to his village Lahroni, claimed his land, and, after 20 years of being a dacoit, turned to farming.
The Sheopur area, the place the park is positioned, has a good quantity of poaching from the Sahariyaand Mogiya tribes. The cheetah mitras have already had an impression, say MP forest officers. Final month, a leopard was discovered lifeless within the park, and based mostly on data from the cheetah mitras within the space, the forest officers nabbed all 4 of the accused chargeable for the killing.
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Sirkawar nonetheless lives in Lahroni, barely 5 kilometres from Kuno nationwide Park, together with his kids and grandchildren, rising wheat, mustard and soyabean. He has been given two rifles and ammunition by the federal government for his “safety”.
He says: “I’ve already instructed folks that they won’t enter Kuno Nationwide Park and nobody is to assault the Cheetahs. If anyone does, or if we discover poachers, then they are going to face the implications from me.”